Day 1 - Feb 10
Flew from Cape Town to KMIA, then drove to Numbi, to be welcomed at the entrance by a carmine bee-eater, which was high up on my birding wish list for the trip. Took the first turnoff towards Mestel Dam, where wallowing hippos were the first mammals of the trip. Back down the S7 produced my first lizard buzzard and some impala on the Shabeni Loop. Napi Road was short of activity in the mid-afternoon heat, but a European roller posed by the side of the road.
As it cooled down slightly, Shitlhave Dam produced the resident fish eagle, a couple of noisy hippos and a magnificent male waterbuck. On the Napi Boulders loop, some buffalo with calves. Back along the Napi Rd, a juvenile dark chanting goshawk. On the Fayi Loop, hordes of European swallows in the trees. Peacefully watching a malachite kingfisher, I nearly feel out of my koekoeboom when the sound of an invisible elephant breaking a branch right in front of me broke the silence. Two magnificent bateleurs posed before the setting sun, whilst my first purple crested turaco welcomed me into Pretoriuskop for the night.
Day 2 - Feb 11
Within the camp from the bungalow to the gate, lots of impala, baboons and warthog. Shabeni loop was quiet, but on the Albasini Rd, my first ever reedbuck and then a bit further on, three white rhino sleeping in the road. Waited with them for half an hour before they got up and moved off.
For about 3 kilometers on this road, there was non-stop buffalo dung, so it must have been a huge herd that had passed through in the night, but all disappeared by now. The S3 Sabie River Road is a beautiful stretch and a bit of a birding paradise – European bee-eaters, African green pigeon, white-crested helmet shrike, black-collared barbet, chinspot batis, fish eagle, blue waxbill and woodland kingfishers were some who revealed themselves. A rhino coming up from a dip in the water was the non-bird highlight of this road.
At the nursery, did the boardwalk for the first time. At Lake Panic itself, the usual suspects were on parade, including pied kingfisher, green-backed heron, African jacana, water dikkop, hippo, croc and bushbuck. Then I backtracked a bit along the Sabie River Road, down the S4 and along the Doispane Rd, where my I saw my first giraffe and zebra of the trip, plus some more carmine bee-eaters. Exited at Phabeni to pick a friend up at KMIA, then back in through Kruger Gate.
Past Skukuza, we were stopped and told to take the first dirt road loop off the H4-1, where we found a magnificent male lion resting next to the road. He got up to walk towards the river, so we hurried back on to the tar road where we met him coming out. He paraded in front of us for a while, marking his territory and gave us a good half hour of close-up excitement. We had to leave him as we still had a long way to get to Satara.
The H1-2 and H1-3 produced impala, zebra, giraffe, a magnificent kudu bull and a martial eagle. At Mazithi Dam, a giant kingfisher surveyed the area and we stopped for a while at Kumana Dam to watch an elephant and a saddle-billed stork in the magnificent light of the golden hour.
Just beyond, we saw 3 lionesses walking in quite thick grass. They were walking towards the road, so we stopped and waited. Before long, we saw they were being followed by 7 subadults and cubs of various ages. They came onto the road in front of us one by one. We had them all to ourselves and it was just a fantastic experience. They all looked a bit thin and were clearly on the search for a meal. Unfortunately, we were now going to be very late for camp if we stayed with them any longer, so we edged our way along the side of the formation, getting a passing glare from each one in turn, savoured the moment once more from in front of them and then headed to Satara.
Beer and braai was the perfect end to the day.
Day 3 - Feb 12
Started on the S100, which true to form, produced a king cheetah, a pride of white lions, 3 unicorns and a T Rex feeding on the carcass of the Loch Ness monster - all these sightings were shared with a UFO that had a yellow ribbon on its bumper. Breakfast in the car was enjoyed overlooking the birdlife at Gudzani Dam. The S41 Gudzani Road produced our first wildebeest of the trip (on the 3rd day!), plus plenty of impala, zebra, waterbuck, giraffe, steenbok and kudu and some nice bird sightings, including kori bustard, saddle-billed stork and large flocks of wattled starlings.
The S90 was fairly quiet until we spotted a real YR, which happened to be Impisi08. A black-backed jackal shortly afterwards was the only bit of excitement until the low-level bridge over the Olifants River, where we spent a lot of time watching the white-fronted bee-eaters.
After enjoying the view and stretching of legs at Olifants camp, we headed north on the dirt roads along the river and Engelhard Dam, which was frequented by lots of giraffe and a family of ground hornbills. We made a detour to see Matambeni bird hide, which was by now quiet apart from a goliath heron and some Egyptian geese. Back to Letaba for lunch, we enjoyed the resident bushbucks and a nyala in the riverbed, while birdlife included a paradise flycatcher and red-headed weaver. The Elephant Hall was just awe-inspiring.
The trip on the tar road back to Satara included a chameleon for whom we stopped oncoming traffic to allow him to cross the road, plus some larger creatures in the shape of elephants and buffalo. After a welcome swim at Satara, we spent the golden hour at Girivana waterhole, where we watched flocks of wattled starlings, carmine bee-eaters and a pair of Eastern red-footed kestrels join the resident waterbirds for some evening sundowners. A herd of buffalo, plus the expected plains game on the H7 ushered us back to camp. We also did a night drive along the S100, where sightings included hyena, a number of hippos out of water, large spotted genet and scrub hare.
Day 4 - Feb 13
Baboons on the tar road south, before we turned onto the Sweni Road, where we watched a hyena for a while. As we were commenting on the lack of early morning activity, we saw a beautiful leopard standing in the road, but a good 30 meters ahead (could this be Veggie?). We decided to “do a Boulder” and switched the car off to see if he would come towards us. He looked at us totally nonchalantly, sprayed his urine on a bush, then unfortunately walked away from us. We lost sight of him, but there was a sharp bend in the road which we thought he might still be on, so we proceeded cautiously, but he had disappeared into thin air like Keyser Soze. We searched the area for about 10 minutes, but our treat had passed.
At Welverdient waterhole, we enjoyed a rhino and calf.
Muzandzeni was deserted apart for ourselves and a lovely Eastern paradise whydah. We proceeded south along the S36, where I saw my first purple roller. The road was rather quiet, befire we had an excellent skottel breakfast and chat with Jonas at Nhlanguleni picnic spot. There was a lot of general game and birdlife, including Senegal lapwings, at Lugmag Dam. A little bit further along, we left alone a male elephant with decent tusks, who took exception to our presence.
We then veered off along the S34, which had some good raptors, before a short break at Tshokwane. The H10 produced some more lone elephant bulls, two sets of ostriches, some posing warthog and a few superb kudu bull specimens.
The detour along the Muntshe and Mlondozi Loops was quiet, before we spent the heat of the afternoon in the swimming pool and viewing deck at Lower Sabie.
The late afternoon drive took us south towards Nthandanyathi bird hide, which was lovely but short of activity. We enjoyed our first vervet monkeys of the trip.
There were several kudu family groups on the road to Nhlangwanzane Dam, where we observed a pair of blacksmith lapwings chasing off a fish eagle. A saddle-billed stork was in a roadside pool on the way back. A stop at Duke waterhole revealed a knob-billed duck. Just back on the S137, we were stopped by a vehicle who told us to look out for a pair of cheetah 2 kms further on. Driving on, we saw a car stopped up ahead, which we assumed would be the cheetah, but our attention was caught by a very large bull elephant to our left with his back to us. Being Duke’s area, we thought he was worth a closer inspection. As you might predict, he turned out not be Duke and while we were waiting to confirm this, the cheetah crossed the road in the distance ahead. When we got there, they were now walking away from us, but we still got a couple of minutes enjoying them before they disappeared into the bush.
The Mativuhlungu Road was quiet as usual, but we did get good sightings of brown-headed parrot, lappet-faced vulture and an unidentified green snake. Sunset was predictably enjoyed at Sunset Dam, where a couple of hippos were having a bit of a face-off.
A troop of baboons and a couple of marabou storks guided us back into camp, where we enjoyed drinks in the company of Richard Harris and friends overlooking the river on the Lower Sabie deck.
Day 5 - Feb 14
For our last morning drive, we started off going north along the H10, before turning onto the S29 and then going along the Salitje Road. The animals were all hiding, until we were treated to a pair of side-striped jackals, which we watched for about 10 minutes (just too far away for decent photography). Further along, we found ourselves accidentally between a hippo and the water, so we moved off to clear his path and he crossed the road right behind us.
The Maroela Loop revealed a striking bateleur and some grazing buffalo.
Breakfast at Skukuza was shared with some pretty bold vervet monkeys. We stopped off at Lake Panic again on our way out, where we watched a pied and a malachite kingfisher almost next to each other. We took the Doispane Road and then decided we had time to head down the S3, where our final sighting was rhinos and buffalo together at Mestel Dam.
We sadly exited at Numbi Gate to head back to KMIA, but were grateful for some excellent sightings of creatures great and small, 4 days of utter relaxation and the privilege of enjoying nature at work.